Boot camp: Prison program not producing results

News that Nevada’s prison boot camp program isn’t working as advertised shouldn’t be a shock. Back in 2003, the U.S. Department of Justice issued a report questioning the effectiveness of such an approach at reducing recidivism.

Nevertheless, Nevada officials don’t appear discouraged at the fact that nearly 44 percent of the inmates who have participated in the state’s boot camp program at Indian Springs have committed additional offenses and ended up back in prison following their release.

The 180-day camp — which costs $42 a day per inmate to operate — has taken in 890 prisoners over the past three years, yet 232 have failed to complete the program while 390 ended up back behind bars. The sober findings were delivered Wednesday by Department of Corrections officials to the Legislative Committee for the Administration of Justice.

Boot camps — in which inmates endure military drills, calisthenics and other exercise, as well as educational classes — are supposed to save money and reduce prison populations by instilling discipline and modifying behaviors that might lead an inmate to commit another crime upon release.

Despite the rather lame success rate, none of the members of the Legislative Committee called for the program’s elimination. And judges “speak positively about” the boot camp, District Judge David Barker told the panel. “We need as many arrows in our quiver as possible.”

Fair enough, to the judge’s last point. But the fact that judges like the program shouldn’t distract taxpayers from the harsh reality of its performance record.

The Department of Justice report, which examined 10 years of data from across the country, did conclude that “under a narrow set of conditions, boot camps can lead to small relative reductions in prison populations and correctional costs.” But achieving those goals involved a host of factors, including eligibility requirements and incentives to participate, the attention paid to re-integrating inmates into society, and the number and availability of treatment programs.

Clearly, the statistics indicate the Nevada program needs attention. If lawmakers are disinclined to eliminate it altogether — as many states have done in recent years — they must demand that corrections officials re-examine their approach to the boot camp and implement reforms that will bring major improvements.

If they fail, taxpayers can’t be expected to forever fund experiments that look good on paper but fail to deliver results.

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